Met criticised over cost of removing Iraq placards

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The Independent Online

Scotland Yard was accused of stifling protest and of "huge overkill" after the disclosure that 78 police officers had been used in the operation to remove placards from the anti-war demonstrator Brian Haw.

The early-morning raid by the Metropolitan Police to dismantle a wall of banners and flags on Parliament Square, outside the House of Commons, on Tuesday cost £7,200.

Members of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which oversees the Met, criticised its scale. One member, Damien Hockney, said it gave the impression that Britain was "suppressing dissent by people opposed to the Iraq war". Another member suggested it had brought the force into "disrepute".

The criticism followed the disclosure by Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Met, about the number of officers used to restrain Mr Haw, 57, and supporters while they took down part of the protest. The Met spent £3,000 on overtime and £4,200 on transport, catering and the erection of road signs.

The raid followed a notice issued under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act requiring Mr Haw, who began his protest in 2001, to limit it to 10 feet of pavement. Previously, the wall of placards stretched the length of the square. Lord Tope, a Liberal Democrat and member of the police authority, said: "Some may find Brian Haw and his activities irritating, but being an irritant is a fundamental part of our democracy. It brings the Met into a bit of disrepute - 78 police officers arriving in the middle of the night to clear placards and chase mice. I really think it was huge overkill."

Sir Ian told the authority: "While the police have much discretion, they do not have discretion about continuing criminal offences which are in the public eye, all the time. Mr Haw has been given permission to continue his protest. What he is not able to do is ignore the law - that is what he is doing."

Mr Haw is due to appear at Bow Street magistrates' court on Tuesday, charged with breaching his conditions to demonstrate in the square.